Moisture rings and countless spills stained the curved wooden bar top at Lou's Bar and Grill. Dispirited patrons sloped toward the counter on rickety stools - a laid off banker deep in his cups; a weathered delivery driver grabbing a bite to eat; a pair of war veterans drinking their horrors and benefits away. The strong scent of fry oil blended with the stringent odor of despair, and hungry flies darted through the smoked amber glow of the bar lights.
Lefty Lopez slouched at the far end of the tatty bar, his battered black fedora slumped low on his forehead, shading his eyes and the swarthy complexion of his face. Condensation from the draft beer clutched in his meaty hand caught on the calloused ridges of his fingers. His once black suit coat, now a shoddy street-puddle gray, stretched taut over his broad shoulders, and his green and yellow striped tie hung loose around his neck. Behind him, the clack of billiard balls smacking into one another underscored Dizzy Gillespie trumpeting from the Wurlitzer jukebox. Two beefy construction workers at lunch placed bets on their next billiard game. An unlabeled envelope filled with photographs of money changing hands at a high rise going up a few blocks over rested beneath Lefty's elbow.
The rusted, steel outer door opened, the afternoon sunlight piercing the bar's gloom. The brightness outlined a curvaceous shadow posing in the center of the doorway, and the barely interested glances toward the newcomer turned attentive. The heavy door clanged shut and men squinted in the sudden change of light. A bourbon-flavored female voice poured through the dimness. "Is there a telephone I may use, Gentlemen?"
The men's vision adjusted to the sight of a shapely Goddess - pin-up material - framed by the doorway. Victory rolls swept hair the color of ripe cherries away from a creamy, heart-shaped face. Subtle gold shimmered across slightly slanted eyelids, giving the woman an exotic look. The sheer sleeves of her white blouse exposed glimpses of her slender arms when she shifted her clutch. Her bright red skirt skimmed her lush curves, stopping right below her knees.
All eyes focused on the woman. Even Dizzy Gillespie paused between songs to stare. One of the construction workers stepped up to the bar beside Lefty, his bulk briefly blocking Lefty's view. Lefty leaned forward, elbows lifting from the sticky bar, watching as the woman smiled knowingly at the reaction she received. The stained envelope Lefty had brought disappeared into the construction worker's pocket. The grizzled bartender pointed toward the back, near the restrooms, in answer to the woman's question.
"Thanks," she said, and hungry gazes watched the shift of her hips as she made her way through the bar.
Dizzy trumpeted the men back to the business of drinking when the woman rounded the corner of the short hall and disappeared from sight. Conversation about who she might be and why she needed a phone immediately arose. Signals were given for refills. The cook tossed a loaded burger in a cheap plastic basket in front of the delivery driver. The billiard players racked another game. Lefty knocked back the rest of his beer and peeled a few bills from a money clip. He dropped them on the bar to pay his tab.
Resettling his fedora on his head, Lefty sauntered out of Lou's into the sticky heat of the sunny summer day. He hopped into his decade-old, green Plymouth Deluxe four-door sedan. The engine started with a smoky belch. Lefty put the column shifter into drive and cut across town to his office.
Lefty's office was located in the corner of a second floor walk up above a dry-cleaner. Insurance agencies, cheap restaurants, a shoe store, two jewelers, and a druggist filled the other two-story, tan brick buildings along the palm tree lined street. A handful of pedestrians walked the sidewalk in the midday sun, going about their business. Cars bought before the war were parked along the curb. Light traffic cruised the street.
Lefty tossed his fedora on a hat rack near the wood and stenciled glass door in his office and flung his suit jacket over the back of a cracked burgundy leather armchair. A fan whined in the corner, fluttering the papers scattered on his surplus Army desk and pushing the astringent scent of dry-cleaning out the open window. Matching gun-metal filing cabinets flanked the corners of the small office. A pigeon walked along the open window's sill, poking its white-gray head into the boxy room.
Grabbing a pen, Lefty opened a file folder on his desk as he sank into his worn office chair with a protesting squeak of its wheels. He clicked on the banker's lamp perched on a corner of the desk beside the rotary telephone, and took his time jotting notes on the pages within the file before wheeling over to the filing cabinet and depositing it in the correct spot.
When he wheeled back around, the pin-up Goddess from the bar had artfully framed herself in his open doorway. She gifted him a sultry smile. "May I use your telephone, Mr. Lopez?"
Lefty snorted, opened the top desk drawer part way, and peeled a banded wad of cash from its taped hiding spot inside. He tossed it to her. She caught it without trouble and fanned through it. "Any problems?" Lefty asked.
"Not a one." She tucked the money into her clutch. "A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Lopez. Call again if you need another diversion."
With that, his Honey Pot blew him a kiss and sashayed enticingly out his door.
"Definitely a pleasure," Lefty agreed after she'd gone. He gave a low whistle, shook his head, and answered the phone when it rang. "Lopez Workplace Investigations, what can I do for you?"